There is a perfectly lovely woman at a local shop who always greets me warmly, and makes genuine, caring conversation with my husband and I when she sees us. She is a homeschooler and so that, I feel, is why she reaches out to connect. But she is a very different type of homeschooler than we: she uses a strict curriculum (for her several children), and the family is an evangelical Christian. Today I got to have that conversation I’ve had so many times in the last few years:
Her: “‘Boys’? I thought you had a boy and a girl?”
Me, smiling: “We thought so too! But we were wrong.”
I wait a beat. It takes most people a second to process what I might be saying.
I just returned from a short vacation, and it was pretty fabulous.
Actually, in the last couple weeks we’ve been on two sojourns to our family cabin on Mason Lake. Last week we took a day trip to spend time with my mother’s side of the family, as they’d gathered for a reunion. And today we returned from our second trip: just our little foursome. We had a few visitors, strategically scheduled for a certain window. And the rest of the time we just did nothing, to ourselves.
A very modest, very inexpensive vacation as – what with house-buying shenanigans – that’s all we could afford. And that was just fine.
The kids are growing older, and in no way do I lose sight of this for even a day. They still play for hours on end in the water, but their deportments have shifted. My son is ever more serious, less childlike, and more directly argumentative when his needs and ours seem to conflict. He has already grown out of the jeans I purchased him under a year ago – purchased with growing room.
My daughter posts an eloquent – and fierce – Facebook disquisition on her vegetarianism (she was bullied about it at school last year). She and her beau are increasingly more recognizably girlfriend-and-boyfriend, casually draping their arms around one another or leaning together watching a movie. I can act like it’s no big deal but all of this means I’m dying on the inside, a little. I’m so proud of her as she navigates territory that I found baffling, and terrifying. I know I support her better than I was myself supported. I think that’s pretty incredible.
So, things are pretty good. We are buying a house, which seems kind of incredible. It seems to be going well! I don’t worry too much about the future because I have learned if I can care for these little ones, for our life – I can probably manage just about anything.
The next chapter is going to be great – because they all have been so far! It just takes me a while to catch up, sometimes.
Our porch as we depart. I thought our raggedy-ass scene and wanton cat-house business might be made the funnier when contrasted with the glamorous lifestyle we were hours away from dabbling in. As it turned out, I was right.
Grey and a little clammy; we flee Aberdeen!
I’m unsure if anyone has appreciated a flight more than Nels. He was delighted. Phee acts like a pro. She’s flown about three times as often as he has though.
Crater Lake. When I’m in a car, I read and re-read the map. On a flight, I survey the terrain. Stunning – and humbling.
OK seriously, airline-that-shall-not-be-named – y’all should know better than to talk up your coffee on a plane heading out of Portland, Oregon. There’s nothing you can do to compete!
Um, that’s more like it? In-N-Out Burger. Peerless restaurant. Last time I was in CA we had a death in the family but you bet we made time to get here.
One of about three massive pool attractions at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach. The most lush accommodations I’ve yet had the privilege to experience.
Night-swimming right away. Of course.
We met my mom out for dinner. This place was like a massive warehouse of seafood. You know that Simpsons episode where Burns dredges the entire seafloor to make “Li’l Lisa Slurry”? This place was like that!
Ralph made a friend!
Phoenix impressed us with her LOVE ACUMEN
Feeding the Hyatt’s koi. The biggest I’ve seen. Kind of horrible in their way.
Breakfast: the family loved this place – a waffle-oriented scene. But me? I needed something more
Phee – another swim.
Doppio Zero. The owner loved his product and the family there was entirely sweet. Also: the best cannoli I’ve ever, ever tasted:
At my grandparents’ place on Saturday night: at the bonfire. I was pleased my children – despite not knowing many of their relatives, and the guests, who were there – were not too shy to pick up a musical instrument or two and do some playing.
At the hotel, after yet another swim! My only regret on the trip: a room service meal. I wasn’t hungry enough for it and it was awfully expensive. Delicious, though!
Sunday morning: farewell to my grandparents’ place. Forever. That’s a little rough.
This pic: somewhere in between lunch (with my mother) and our trip to the Aquarium of the Pacific.
For some reason, in the lorikeet aviary I was the only person graced with a bird on her shoulder. My smile is one of pure delight!
I am home after vacation – six days. I drove into town and attended two back-to-back volunteer bits. Getting back to my house, I made a few phone calls to friends, and now I’m about to take a hot shower and fall into a bed with 100% freshly-washed bedding and a wonderful husband and perhaps a child or two.
I had a pleasant vacation, and I think my family did (I know Hutch did!). We have readers here and online elsewhere, to thank. People sent about half the expense. We will have some slim pockets from now until payday, but with mindfulness, gratitude, and trust, we will stay fed and cared for.
Tomorrow I must find a way to get my (non-running) car to the shop. Ralph’s car is also on its last legs. I was laughing with a friend about how I “always” seem to have car problems. “But at least they’re paid for!” I cackle.
Thank Goodness we are on the summer off-season: no need to get kids to a bus stop, and Ralph can bike ride to work.
I had many wonderful experiences and a little bit of awareness, meditating on vacation. When I’m rested, I will share more.
May any reading here, and those who do not, find happiness, safety, peace, and health.
I am currently soliciting donations so we four can have a modest, 6-day Lake vacation – including a gathering for Ralph’s birthday!
As per usual, the support I receive online (through email, this site, Facebook, and Twitter) has been wonderful since the ten-plus years. This last year we’ve had a hard time with a few extra medical expenses, car trouble, and a lot of extra layout re: counseling for family trauma. That said, this is how Life works and I get that! We are hoping we can have our six days at the Lake as a vacation is good for anyone who can have one. If you can help in any way, it is appreciated. May I just offer my sincere gladness to those who read here, and those who comment or email, IM, tweet, or text. You are the reason I keep writing.
Thank you for reading and supporting in the many ways you do!
In other news, I launched a new website this month – B-movie BFFs! (tonight’s fare – 1977’s Crater Lake Monster; if you’d like to watch with us, follow the instructions as per the site). This is the home of my ridiculous “Sea Hunt” project; upcoming you can expect my spoiler-free review of Season 2 of “Hemlock Grove”.
I have been trying to find a B-movie podcast I can promote through the site, so I’ve been listening to those to find a good fit. Most of them are male-dominated and not as tightly-produced as I’d like to recommend. Yesterday I tried, then rejected one that had extremely offensive humor right from the get-go. Currently I’m listening to a couple young(-sounding) British lads who definitely watch the kind of movies I want to be talking about, and have a great sense of humor as well. Let’s hope I’ve found a podcast I can call home!
Ralph is, of course, trying to convince me to put forth my own podcast (hardcore fans of all things Hogaboom will remember my one-off in this regard back in, I think, 2010). It sounds like a lot of work but, as I’ve had so much fun building my site and creating my “Sea Hunt” ringtones (HUGE NERD ALERT), I am nonetheless tempted!
Due to circumstances unplanned for, we cut our September vacation from eight days at the lake, to three. But still, I think the kids were fine. I “owe” them another lake and/or swimming trip, as we have a bit of good weather left here in the Northwest.
Nels wasn’t particularly grouchy this morning; but he was, for a bit, pensive. I forgot to ask him what he was thinking of.
Ralph and I sit on the porch at the cabin and watch our children play on the dock. Just lately I feel a twinge of sadness watching the little ones – they are so tall, growing up so fast. Like I told a friend the other day, it’s nice to have more than one child because no matter what milestones the oldest is getting up to you always have your “baby”. But of course one day the baby, too, like reaches up top of the fridge to get down the egg cartons for his “little Mama”. Ouch.
Regardless, if there’s one thing in my life that gives me peace and strength, it’s my children. Just listening to them, watching them, they are an inspiration. Today they help us haul in our groceries and gear, and they take care of the dog and kitty we brought along, and they strip into swim clothes then back into jeans and t-shirts then back in to swim clothes again, and run about and feed some baby ducks pieces of peanut butter cookie, and speak so sweetly to each creature they come across.
My children love this place, the lake cabin. They love it so much more than even seems to make sense. They love it regardless of the weather or if we have visitors or if we don’t. They love whatever food we cook or television we watch (or don’t watch). They don’t get “bored” here even though it is a large one-room cabin and we just have a few boats and things (and okay let’s admit it – sometimes I get bored here!). And on the porch now I’m sipping coffee and thinking – this is the forth family generation of children to play here (the cabin was erected in 1939). Amongst the many framed pictures of family are photographs of my grandmother and great-aunt when just toddlers.
I guess it’s a pretty kid-friendly scene, really.
Clear sunshine, warm rain, silence across the water.
Christmas is over, and people ask me how my holiday went. The truth is, I am tired. Christmas was a lot of work for this single income family: two children, a fair number of loved ones, five animals, visiting friends and family, the household bills and fun stuff like that.
Lately my thoughts adhere to taking something I’ve heard called a “staycation”, in that I might get to stay home and enjoy time by myself while the other members of my family absented themselves. As it is, I get very little alone time in my life. While I am not complaining about this precisely, I recognize a lack of balance. I am mindful that whenever possible I should make some allowance to rest and have a period of little responsibility to anyone but my own self.
In addition, I have my work in Recovery, which I am starting to realize can take a toll on me in a way that is hard to explain. One key aspect: I have not allowed myself to write as fully about this as I would have liked and like we would have benefited me. I don’t picture that changing any time soon.
When I got started in this field a little while back, helping other alcoholics and addicts, I refrained from writing a great deal of detail on the work for several reasons. Foremost and final concerning this post at least, I reflected that even if I was very careful to not use names, or details that would reveal the identity or circumstances of any individual I was working with, it felt exploitive to with regularity write in all frankness the experiences I was being exposed to. When I mentioned this difficulty to my friends who know how much I like to write, some of them suggested I focus exclusively on my experiences, therefore maintaining a scrupulous set of ethics.
I have not yet found a way to do this that is not problematic according to my own sense of right and wrong.
I’ve spent hundreds of days in journalistic silence when what I wanted most was to communicate to the world what I was experiencing.
Believe me, if it had been at all possible for me to do as I was advised, this writing space would have been filled to the brim with what I consider today the absolute cornerstone spiritual experiences of my life. However, I have known for some time it is at least theoretically possible anyone, and I mean anyone, could happen upon the words herein. As much as I want to communicate what has become some of the most important work in my life, I cannot yet bring myself to risk someone might read here and have even a glimmer of doubt, the faintest inkling, that I might be exploiting their most personal and private struggles here for some kind of egoic gain. I must continue to write in a general way, then, even though it often seen those writings do not resonate with my readers, nor do they engender the kind of intimate narrative that my previous years of blogging has provided me, personally.
In a general way, then, I will share a bit.
Perhaps it would be different for other people, but I am finding that I cannot do this work without relying daily on regular prayer, meditation, and spiritual study. Last night I spoke with someone close to me as they described their spiritual experiences, and their relationship with God. To me what they were describing were incidents episodic, infrequent, infused with emotion or sentimentality, and discrete. Weather in a chapel or on a river bank, these experiences sound familiar: a human being is suddenly overcome with powerful, usually positive emotions. They sense there is an order to the world, or goodness to the universe, or even sometimes a Grand Plan. These experiences seem to be emotional yet powerful and they sound genuine. I am familiar with these experiences and have had a few of them in my life.
However, I am not strong enough, patient enough, intelligent enough, gentle enough, or wise enough to rely on these kinds of now-and-then experiences to get me through the difficulties I face on a daily basis. My budding spirituality has been built almost entirely on Action. Every day, I take a series of actions that I have come to believe are necessary to sustain my faith, my sobriety, my usefulness to and my quality of life. If I were to rely on positive feelings, or a positive thought-life – well, to put it frankly, I would be a dead man. What may indeed work for others does not work for me.
I have almost nothing to offer. I have my faith practice and today I can give this body of work the macho head nod of acknowledgement because honestly, it’s not too bad. My primary asset is a willingness to “suit up and show up”, as I have heard it said. Each day I take a series of actions that I believe increases my use to others, benefits the rest of the world, and keeps me from going crazy and/or drinking; a series of actions that keep me from being swallowed by despair or impotent rage or crushing anxiety – since, frankly, I apparently never learned how to take a flight into Apathy, another common defense I see in others. Most of these actions I mention are not ones I necessarily feel all groovy doing, and none of them bring the sorts of reward that people are often running after – that is, fame, money, sex, power, or material security. My willingness and my action, therefore, is a little special, and it keeps me a little sane. For I am NOT especially immune to the drives that cause us to run after the various intoxicants I describe here.
I am willing to learn more, and to seek more teachers. I am willing to explore further. I have almost nothing else to offer. I do not have the answers to why human beings have the capacity for, and apparent will to, suffer so intensely. I bring up suffering because although I have known of suffering my whole life, never has it been more obvious, more direly manifest, more destructive, more myriad in form and function as I have witnessed since coming into Recovery (and not just in the alcoholics and addicts I work with!). My work daily brings me stark confrontation with suffering and I am consciously aware of this confrontation. In contrast, it seems to me that many people trying to ignore suffering – unless it is their own, in which case they make this the center of their Being. Many people try to avoid suffering at any cost, and many people, when confronted with the suffering of others, respond with the strategy – and it isn’t much of a strategy – “better you than me”. Very few people I know would own up to having that worldview, but I think it is very common indeed.
“Better you than me” was my reflexive response to others’ suffering for quite some time. I am still healing from a lifetime habit that was probably formed when I was very young and could not handle some of the realities of my life. I am still healing from the habit energy of that lifestyle.
Well I remain employed in my practices, trying as best I can to meet my responsibilities to myself, my family and friends, and the world at large, I am building my own personhood. In my case, my principles, my logic and intelligence, my opinions, my emotions and sentiment, we’re not enough to build this personhood. I had to rely on faith practices – that is, taking actions in hopes of a kingdom not seen, almost impossible to describe, and absolutely impossible to “prove” to others. As the product of a skeptical, dysfunctional upbringing, my clumsy-ass clay sculpture of a spiritual life is still, you know, not too shabby. I’m good with it.
Pho (from Olympia).
More Hamilton (photo by Phoenix).
Nels is angry. He couldn’t engage the boat into gear. He had to paddle back to the dock. Then, only a few minutes after this picture, a group of people in a Party Barge motored over to ask us about this boat (it’s a battery-operated duck-hunting boat I remember from the last 25 years – it’s probably from the 50s). They also admired Nels’ competency navigating the craft. So he was pleased as punch. Then a few minutes after THAT, while he motored around the throttle’s knob snapped while ON and he started jetting across the lake – and screaming for his life (I mean – he was quite terrorized). Before we could mount a rescue, he figured out how to disengage the motor, pulled his shit together, then paddled back. After docking he came inside and grabbed some food. When I asked him if he was shaken up by his equipment malfunction, all cocky-like said he would do the whole thing over again.
Packing up, today.
We had a lovely time. And it’s nice to be home, now.